How to paint over an Acrylic painting

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting

Should I paint over my acrylic painting that hasn't worked?

“Take encouragement from the thought that you may learn from honest failure than from mild success”
Solomon J Solomon – British Pre-Raphaelite painter

It’s the debate with yourself that never ends…

Should I paint over my painting that’s not going to plan or start again on a fresh canvas?

How do you weigh up the time you’ve invested, the cost of materials and all the emotions versus starting again…. it’s almost too much…

When do you need to start your acrylic painting again?

Imagine the scene, you’ve been tinkering over a still life painting for days, tweaking a bit here, a bit there and something is just is not right. Your previous colour has all dried up and you just can’t match it again. The apple looks wrong, the drawing is a bit ‘out’ and the colours, well what were you thinking the day before?

Oh sod it, I’m going to start again.

You’ve spent out money on the canvas and want to change the picture so you reach for the white paint intending to paint out the whole thing. Right choice or wrong choice?

How to cover your Acrylic painting

You have to be aware of a few things if you decide to repaint, and to make the decision, is it worth it?

1. The paint surface won’t feel the same – Once you’ve lost the ‘tooth’ of the canvas the paint behaves differently, it doesn’t pull off the brush in the same way.

2. You can’t use watercolour techniques. Because once the paint surface has built up watery paint just won’t behave the same. Some of the most interesting areas in paintings are from the mix of thin transparent paint with thick impasto. This can be key in portraits when trying to create the illusion of depth.

3. The paint can feel chalky. If you paint over the whole canvas with White acrylic, it will feel chalky when you paint over it.

4. You loose the glow of the ground. When you paint Yellow Ochre onto a white canvas (See: How a prepared canvas can drastically improve your painting) the trick is to paint it thick enough to form a opaque layer but thin enough to allow the white from the canvas to shine through and give the colour a glow. When you paint over an existing painting you loose this glow.
I know what you’re thinking, ‘I’ll just paint the coloured ground again‘. The problem is you’ll have lost the absorbancy of the canvas and gained another layer of unwanted texture.

5. Your paints get slippy. Because Acrylics are plastic based (See:What are your paints made from?) when they are built up in layers they create a hard, shiny surface. This is rubbish to paint on. Period.

6. It can take longer than you think. To cover the painting completely will take a minimum of two coats, even with artist quality paint. To paint sections will take longer because you won’t have the coloured ground to fall back on. You will have to cover every area of the canvas.

We’ve all been there

One of my moments of ‘the blackness’ came two days before a deadline for a client. It was for a large triptych painting of a sky. Each canvas was 6ft x 4ft, and I’d spent over 3 weeks on the paintings, they were practically finished.

They looked good, all they needed was a few subtle glazes to bring the paintings together.
Vanessa had just popped upstairs to make a cup of tea with the fateful words ‘They are finished Will, just varnish them’ The phone rang, she was delayed upstairs.
Fifteen minutes later she came down, all the canvases were now white. No dramatic clouds, no subtle glazing, just one big problem.

I don’t think I can repeat what she said.

The moral of the story

The triptych got repainted, it looked better than the first. But, it still took me another two weeks and a lot of trickery and late nights. Sometimes if a painting is not quite sitting right, reserve judgment, have a brew. Come back to it with a calm composure.

However, I don’t always get away with a repainting.
Even with all my experience the pile of unfinished, slightly embarrassing paintings, is a clear reminder that sometimes when you know in your heart a painting is not right it is worth starting again.

It can be depressing. Even though you’ll think it is great to save the money on a canvas it’s a false economy. The time it takes to paint over, add extra layers, and try to keep a section you were pleased with, it is just not worth it. Don’t paint over it, keep it as a record of your progress.
Take the hit in your wallet and put it down to experience, see it as an artistic progression tax.

This, of course, is easy to say. The the next time I feel like throwing a canvas across the room I shall try to practice what I preach, but the urge just to tweak a bit, just to repaint that one little passage can be hard to resist.

The answer:

If you’re a beginner it will not only take more time, cost more money, and will probably look worse.

Of course, there are certain situations if you’re more experienced and can judge the level of repainting needed i.e: not usually the entire canvas, when repainting is a life saver but should be reserved for very small areas.

Acrylics are fantastic, you can paint over your mistakes easily and completely but having this level of flexibility can lead to you abusing it by never getting past the first canvas. This can stilt your progress by becoming too precious and wanting everything to be perfect.

Mistakes are part of progress.

“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution.”
Sir James Dyson

{ 98 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda November 1, 2011

Great advice Will. Summed up perfectly by the James dysons quote…. Must frame that for those moments of despair!

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Val February 3, 2012

Hi Will
I just found your blog and I am completely loving it. Great stuff!
I need to completely repaint a painting I just “finished”. It’s a pretty big canvas and I don’t want to buy a new one… Can I apply a cover of acrylic gesso over the painted canvas, and then coat it again with yellow ocre and start painting again? Will this work?

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Will Kemp February 4, 2012

Hi Val,
Great to hear you’re enjoying it.

In answer to your question:
Can I apply a cover of acrylic gesso over the painted canvas, and then coat it again with yellow ocre and start painting again? Will this work?

Yes you can. The acrylics won’t be affected by it at all, but what will happen (depending on how thick the paint was on the previous painting) is a change in handling properties of the fresh paint, because you create a more waxy less absorbant surface, the more acrylic layers you have on the canvas.

That said, if the cost of the Gesso is a lot less than a new canvas then go for it!

Good luck and let me know how you get on,

Will

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Cecilia April 16, 2012

Just came across your blog. Thank goodness for the advice! I’m only a beginner and I’m doing a painting on a large canvas, but something just wasn’t right! So I painted it all white and started again. But it’s still not ‘right’. I haven’t painted for two weeks now, due to my frustration with this painting, but after reading your advice, I’m definitely starting on a new canvas. Thanks for a great page!!

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Will Kemp April 16, 2012

Hi Cecilia,
Pleased to hear you stumbled upon it. Yes, it can be very disheartening when the painting still doesn’t ‘work’ the surface can often make a bigger difference than you would initially think.
Good luck with the new canvas!
Will

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Amber May 4, 2012

Hi! I’m an art student in Edenvale High School, South Africa and I am only in grade ten so this is all very new to me.

We got a major project to paint a close-up of a flower (Mine was a water lily) using the composition colours of red and green and I’ve totally messed up on the background… And I’m using my big sister’s acrylic paints so I’m in utter distress because I can’t use too much of it. Nor can I afford to buy a new canvas! What must I do to fix my error? Can I just coat it in two layers of titanium white like a wash and then start painting again?

If not what will help?

Let me know A.S.A.P!

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Will Kemp May 4, 2012

Hi Amber,
No need to panic, you’ll be able to fix it.

Just paint over the canvas with the titanium white ( a couple of thin layers is better than 1 thick layer) and I would then be tempted to to add a muted green background (depending on your composition) to the whole of the canvas. (burnt umber & cadmium yellow or Black & yellow + white) make sure it is a muted green so it isn’t too harsh. To find a balance using red & green you’ll need one colour bright and one muted, for example a muted dull green next to a bright red will look good.

With the water lily this might be a bit tricky though. Have a look at this painting by Kathryn Townsend where roses have been used in a balanced composition.

Hope this helps,
Will

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Coral sechtig May 21, 2012

Thanks so much for the helpful advice. I’m a beginner with Acrylics and the hardest part is knowing when it’s finished. Walking away and coming back later helps to see it through new eyes. I am unsure if it’s ok to leave the distance part of landscape thinner and smoother with less detail. From what I read on your page this helps with depth so am hoping I’m on the right track. Would be helpful to share via photos to get advice or encouragement sometimes. Also is it best to prime canvas with Gesso or not. I’ve read conflicting reports. Thanks again.

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Will Kemp May 21, 2012

Hi Coral,

Glad the advice is helping, yes, keeping the distance objects out of focus will really help add depth to your paintings.
You can read a post on using Gesso here.

I always work on a surface that has been primed with Gesso and then a coloured ground added.

If you feel you would like to have an expert eye look over your work I offer an art critique service that you can read more about here.

Hope this helps,

Will

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kasey mahoney June 28, 2012

DANG, just googled “starting a painting over again.”
This is depressing but sometimes forcing it tends to be worse.. ahh time to start over (with only 2 nights left before the deadline.)

Also great painting, I commented on your most recent oil painting time lapse and coincidentally found you on here after my search! peace!

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Will Kemp June 28, 2012

Hey Kasey,

I feel your pain!

Hope the new painting works out well and thanks for the comment on the timelapse

Will

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samantha September 2, 2012

Hey Will,
Was so happy to find your site.. thank you so much for all your demonstrations/advice.

I have been working on a painting of a lady sitting.. everything was coming together.. I was almost finished, when I realised the eyes were a bit weird, then the paint got sticky and awkward.. I ended up painting over the face in white a couple of times and now its really difficult to rework as the face has more layers of acrylic than the rest of the painting.. do you think I can save this woman?

thanks loads… (do you give classes in UK?) Sam :)

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Will Kemp September 2, 2012

Hey Sam,

Mmm, a tricky one, we’ve all been there!

If the paint has got too thick trying to get that luminosity of skin is going to be increasingly harder. However, If it is only the face that has gone wrong it might be worth perservering as it would be a shame to abandon the whole piece because of it. As long as she doesn’t turn into a Mr Bean ‘Whistlers Mothers’ scenario!

I do run very occasional classes in Cheshire.

Thanks,
Will

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Alicia M Johnson September 3, 2012

I have a canvas that wasn’t easy to come by; it is a circle with a beveled edge. I want to redo what I have done. Can acrylic be sanded down or stripped? It’s not a large surface so painting over what I’ve done would not be an issue, but I would like get rid of the texture of the old painting, if possible.

Thanks!

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Will Kemp September 3, 2012

Hi Alicia,

You can sand down acrylics, but it might need a hand sander depending on the thickness. As the acrylic stays slightly flexible when it dries it doesn’t sand down as easily as say plaster but it is possible.

Thanks,
Will

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Jamilah September 18, 2012

My art assignment is to paint my portrait but I have no idea of what to do if I have a mistake. My teacher said that we cannot paint a lighter colour over a darker colour. Is that true?

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Will Kemp September 18, 2012

Hi Jamilah,
You can paint a lighter colour over a darker colour, it just might take a couple of goes.

Imagine trying to cover a wall that has been painted black with white paint.

The first layer you would still be able to see some black showing through, but paint 3 or 4 coats and the wall would be white. The exact same principle applies when painting portraits.
Good luck with your painting,
Will

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Colin S. September 25, 2012

Found your website yesterday, and it is brilliant. I was told at an art class that one can ‘paint out’ a previously painted canvas with gesso. I hope that’s true because I did that with a ‘study’ and am using it to follow your Monet tutorial and trying to produce my own painting.

Your website and videos are extremely helpful and informative to the beginner. Thanks very much for being willing to share your insights.

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Will Kemp September 25, 2012

Hi Colin,
Great to hear you’re enjoying the site. You’ll be fine with the gesso painted over a previous canvas and the Monet painting technique will work well.

Let me know how the painting turns out.
Cheers,
Will

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Colin S. September 30, 2012

The painting is turning out very well (so far – fingers crossed). It’s a scene of a church near Montepulciano in s. Tuscany – lots of different greens – But I punched in some reds (red roofs; some red/gold trees in the foreground, luckily), taking the cue from your video suggestion of juxtaposing complementary colours. The sky really has turned out well – again following your ‘Monet’ videos. Thanks very much for the help.

Colin

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Will Kemp September 30, 2012

Great news Colin, Tuscany is such a perfect subject for a balance of those colours, pleased the ‘Monet’ video helped your sky.

Thanks,
Will

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Tammy October 3, 2012

I started a painting on a Black Canvas. I’m using acrylics to paint a fern. The stems are too close together and the leaves are too long. Is there anyway I can start over?

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Will Kemp October 5, 2012

Hi Tammy,

Yes, the same principles apply, you can repaint with black to start over, alternatively just repaint around the ferns as tweaking the length of the leaves is easily remedied.

Thanks,
Will

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Brandon Herrera October 9, 2012

Hello Will my name is Brandon I’m a senior in high school and I just gessoed an old painting i had which had been done in acrylic. I use watered down paint when using acrylic and I know that i will not be able to get the same results on the gessoed canvas since the tooth of the canvas is gone. So my question is could using acrylic in impasto save this canvas?

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Will Kemp October 9, 2012

Hey Brandon,
Yes, for your painting working with thicker impasto acrylic would save the day!
Cheers,
Will

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Claire Duncan November 15, 2012

I spent a lot of time making a very smooth surface on Baltic Birch.
I’m having difficulty getting thin layers of acrylic wash (underpainting) to stick after removing masking fluid. Ideas: Painting gesso over areas that are beading? Sanding surface? Using detergent to increase surfactant action? I don’t want to move on to thicker paint until I get this beading-up to stop happening.

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Will Kemp November 15, 2012

Hi Claire,

I would recommend using a flow medium, such as Golden Acrylic flow release.

Flow medium is a liquid medium (Acrylic Flow Release) you can add to acrylic paint to increase the flow consistency whilst maintaining a solid paint film.

This results in a more liquid paint with colour particles that ‘hold together. The flow medium breaks the surface tension and will allow the paint to soak into the board rather than beading on the surface.

Hope this helps,
Will

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Crumplehorn December 4, 2012

Hi, thanks for being out there offering useful advice! I hope you can help – I painted a large canvas about a year ago, which has some areas that I repainted. I didn’t varnish the painting. Now I want to varnish it for an exhibition but recently a blue shape from the underlayer has become visible in one of the spots where I overpainted with titanium white. It has only happened in one place even though I overpainted with white over quite a few blue parts. I put several layers on when I overpainted (allowing each to dry first). Any ideas why this one part is now showing through and what I could do about it? Would varnishing when it was first finished have made any difference?

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Will Kemp December 5, 2012

Hey Crumplehorn, is the painting in oils?

Because oils get more transparent with age, this will be the reason that the blue shape is now visible.
Varnishing straight away wouldn’t have made any difference. The only thing to do is to paint more titanium white over the top, but I appreciate as titanium white is a slow drying pigment it might be too tight a deadline to paint for the exhibition.

You can repaint and spray with ‘retouch varnish’ this will help the paint breath to fully dry yet unify the surface and add some protection rather than having to wait another 6 months to add a full varnish.

If you are working with acrylic, just paint over the top, make sure you use an artist quality white so it has maximum coverage.

Hope this helps,
Will

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Crumplehorn December 5, 2012

Thanks so much for your quick response. It is an acrylic painting and had already been painted over with several layers of good quality white. I am mystified that the colour has shown through a year later, Until then that part was completely white, which is what I wanted. I have now repainted again (twice) and it is already starting to show through. Is there anything I could put down as a ‘sealant’ over the blue shape before painting over again with the white? I am using only artist quality paints.

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Will Kemp December 5, 2012

Mmm, what a mystery. You can paint over the blue shape with an ‘isolation coat’ it is a thinned down mix of soft gel gloss ( from Golden paints) I advise applying an isolation coat before varnishing when using acrylics. You can read an artlice about it here. So you could apply an isolation coat and then add another coat of white ontop ( it might be a bit slippy though due to the gloss of the isolation coat)

Cheers,
Will

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Crumplehorn December 5, 2012

Just read your section on using an isolation coat and can see what you mean. I’ll give it a go and see if that solves the problem. Thanks for the suggestion and for taking the time to respond. Much appreciated.

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John Ryan January 16, 2013

I have a similar problem…and I keep seeing you Will, on youtube and the web as I search for an answer…so, I hope it’s ok if I just ask here. I just started painting with acrylic paints, I’m a total novice. One issue I seem to be running into is that if I paint a light colour, say yellow, over a dark colour, say navy blue, I can still see the blue through it (or rather it turns green)…although the blue paint behind is dry. I want the bright yellow that I am painting on the canvas to be…bright yellow. Being a beginner, I have purchased inexpensive paints. I understand mixing colours, so I understand that yellow and blue will give me green, however, the blue paint was dry..so I expected to be able to paint my yellow on top…and not see it give me the yellow. Is it the quality of the paint or do I have to keep laying on the yellow…to get to the pure yellow colour I want? I imagine the wet yellow paint is re-wetting the blue and hence mixing the two together. I am contemplating Gesso-ing the area and letting it dry so that my yellow is yellow…with one coat. Am I missing something? I noticed at the store that there are “beginner”, “intermediate” and “professional” acrylics. Could that help..getting a thicker or better quality yellow for example…so it does not mix with the blue background? I mean, when people do landscapes and paint the background sky blue…how do they prevent the blue mixing with the trees and clouds that are being painted on top? I’m a bit frazzled.

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Will Kemp January 17, 2013

Hey John,

Frazzle ye not! I’ll answer your questions a bit at a time, so here goes but it’s mostly down to an opacity and quality of paint problem:

I want the bright yellow that I am painting on the canvas to be…bright yellow. Being a beginner, I have purchased inexpensive paints.

With standard acrylics, the blue underneath will definitely be dry and would never re-wett and mix together with a new layer of paint on top to make a new colour, in essence it forms a plastic layer.

The green you are seeing is being mixed ‘optically’ between the yellow and the blue.
This is traditionally called a glaze, where thin layers of transparent colour are laid over dry paint to alter the appearance of the colour underneath, think coloured glass laid over a picture.
Glazing is a great skill to learn and a more advanced technique so your ahead of the game!

Do I have to keep laying on the yellow…to get to the pure yellow colour I want?

No, you need an artist quality yellow that is an opaque yellow, Cadmium yellow would be your best choice. However because you’re trying to cover navy blue, you’d still might need a couple of coats. Usually colours have been mixed with a little bit of white which gives them a good coverage, again, artist quality Titanium white is one of the best investments you can make in your painting.

The problem your having with the yellow is certainly to do with 2 things:
1.Inexpensive student grade paint, therefore not as much coverage as artist quality paints.
2.Yellows in general being semi transparent colours and your trying to lay it over a dark colour.

You don’t need to Gesso the area unless it’s a very large expanse and this would cut yellow paint cost down!

When people do landscapes and paint the background sky blue, how do they prevent the blue mixing with the trees and clouds that are being painted on top?

They don’t need to as the acrylics underneath would be dry, unless you wanted them to mix e.g: like blurring a clouds edge. Then this would be highly desirable and creating soft edges and a blend is the number one problem people have with acrylics, they dry too quickly so you can’t blend them together easily!

Have a look at this free landscape course, where it introduces some of these painting principles,

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

Will

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John Ryan January 18, 2013

Hey Will, thanks so much. Very interesting to learn that the yellow is not “re-wetting” the blue to mix and give me the green but rather it being an optical result due to my novice yellow paint. I’ve since gotten a pro-level cadmium yellow that I shall test out this weekend..I’m kind of excited…lol…I’m a novice woodworker too…I get a bit giddy when looking at different types of wood…so hey…why not paint, right? I shall check out the landscape course too. Thanks!

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Will Kemp January 18, 2013

Good one John, glad it helped, enjoy experimenting with your pro cadmium yellow this weekend.

Cheers,
Will

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John Ryan January 25, 2013

The results: So, last weekend I gave my new pro cadmium yellow a try…and it worked like a charm! I must say…I’m a bit surprised in the quality of the paint…not only did it cover much better…but it was a lot nicer to apply. I also had to apply “novice” orange over black….and it wasn’t working…so I put a layer of the new “pro” yellow on…and then orange over the yellow…and voila…it worked. Wow…time to replace my “novice” paint with “pro” paint. What I find a bit odd is that for a novice…the “novice” paint was/is harder to work with….you’d kind of think it should be the other way around. Very happy Will…thanks so much.

mandy February 6, 2013

I do thank you for the advice, but you did not answer the “how to” at all. You just gave a list of reasons on why not to.

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Will Kemp February 6, 2013

Hi Mandy,

That’s the point! The ‘how to’ is probably not to!

However, if you want to go for it anyway, then either:

a. Apply white paint or gesso over the entire canvas, and start afresh with a coloured ground (bear in mind all the points in the article)
b. Apply thicker paint over the areas you want to repaint, making sure to use artist quality paints or you won’t get the coverage.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Perri Jacobs February 7, 2013

Will,
Would it be possible to gesso over a “failed” acrylic painting and then do a new one with a palette knife technique?

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Will Kemp February 7, 2013

Yes, that would work.

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Chico April 2, 2013

Hi, i want to repurpose the canvas of the acrylic painting that I did during college. The thing is I don’t know how to base it properly so that the texture would still be nice. Some of my friends adviced that I can just paint it on with a white latex flat paint. Some advices that I mix a plaster of paris with te white latec paint to base then another layer of just white paint. I’m confused. What do I do? Thanks in advance! :)

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Will Kemp April 8, 2013

Hey Chico,

The best way to have a surface that you’ll be able to paint on to, over your existing painting, would be to apply a couple of coats of Acrylic Gesso.

Cheers,

Will

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Mepemba2 June 14, 2013

I am a beginner and I want to ask you that will it make any difference if we prime out already primed canvas with acrylic gesso.Will it be more good if we apply more coats of gesso or it would just ruin our painting?Plus I want to ask you that can we use a little bit of water while painting with acrylics on canvas and can we draw on canvas which is already painted?
Please reply

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Will Kemp June 14, 2013

Hi Mepemba2,

If you apply more coats of Gesso to an already primed canvas it definitely won’t ruin your painting, it will just give is a slightly different surface to paint onto.

The best thing to do is to take one canvas, mask it into 4 and then apply different coats of gesso to each section – 1 square blank, 2 square 1 coat etc.

Then just test the canvas to see which surface you prefer.

can we use a little bit of water while painting with acrylics on canvas?

You can use loads of water with acrylics and apply them as thin as watercolours.

can we draw on canvas which is already painted?

It’s harder to draw onto a canvas that has already been painted with a standard pencil as the acrylic won’t show the graphite, try using a pastel pencil such as the Derwent pastel pencil.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Jimi McKay September 2, 2013

Hi Will. Thanks for all the useful advice, but I have a much more amateur question than most of the others here! I´ve just started learning to paint with acrylics, so I´m really just learning how the paint behaves. What I´m finding is that when I paint layers on top of acrylics which appear completely set, then start to blend with the new layer (I was adding shadows to trees). The paints are Daler Rowney, which are reasonable aren´t they? I´m at a bit of a loss, given that I´m no Joaquin Sorolla to start with, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Do I need to leave the paints to set for a few days or something?

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Will Kemp September 2, 2013

Hi Jimi,

I know this might sound like a silly question, but are you 100% sure the paints are acrylics?

I only ask because I’ve had a student before that was using Gouache (which is water soluble) and was having a similar problem.

Acrylics will dry within a few minutes (if not quicker when painted thinly)

Let me know.

Cheers,
Will

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Jimi McKay September 3, 2013

Hi Will,
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. It´s not a silly question at all. I´ve had a look at all the paints I´ve been using and they´re all Daler-Rowney Acrylics. They have either 3 or 4 stars next to the word ‘Permanence’ above the logo. I´ve had some of them for years, but the same thing happens with one I bought a couple of months back. It´s an ugly smearing effect, where the paints underneath mix with those I´m adding on top. Hmm, not sure what to try next. I have another attempt which I could experiment with, it´s been dry for longer, maybe it was a one-off.

Many thanks, your website is brilliant by the way.
Jimi.

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Will Kemp September 3, 2013

Hi Jimi,
Thanks for checking, how strange, as the very nature of acrylics is to dry quickly to an insoluble film, rather than to stay wet, unless the lower application of paint was very thick.

Have another experiment, even just squeezing out small blobs of paint (in progressively larger blobs) and timing how long it takes them to dry. If you hold the paint up to the light you’ll see the sheen change as it dries. Who would have though watching paint dry could be so much fun!

Cheers,
Will

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Jimi McKay September 5, 2013

Hi Will,

Haha, I actually tried it again before reading your response, and it worked fine. I think that either some of the paints I´m using have expired (does that happen?) or I must not have mixed them well enough. I also tried mixing from orange to purple, as you explained in one of your colour theory videos, and I found the explanation really helpful. So, thanks again.

Cheers,
Jimi.

Dean October 5, 2013

Hey,
I’ve finished painting with acryling on a wood board, and after finishing a layer of varnish (without applying an isolation coat, my bad) need to fix something in the painting, can i paint over the varnish and add another layer or two, or will it ruin it further? is there any alternative except removing the varnish and basically starting over.

important to add, that the corrections needed are very small.

appreciate the help and the article,
Dean

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Will Kemp October 7, 2013

Hi Dean,

Mmm, we’ve all been there! personally, even though its not 100% technically correct, I would be tempted to paint ontop of the varnish, change the small details, and then apply another coat of varnish.

The only issue you’ll have is with the acrylic adhering to the varnish layer but if it is only small adjustments you should be okay, also the different in sheen of the finish of the new acrylic painted on top compared to the existing varnish layer.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Lenora November 4, 2013

Will, I’m new to acrylics. I am experimenting with Hardy Plank (fiber cement sheet) How do i best prime this for acrylics?

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Will Kemp November 4, 2013

Hi Lenora,

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this surface when you’re first starting because the sheets are often powder coated in the factory to repel moisture and water, so when you start to try to paint any watery layers onto the sheet they will just slide off. You will be able to use thicker acrylic straight onto it, but you run the risk of having poor adhesion to the sheet. If you’re really keen on painting on the surface though you can add a coat of acrylic gesso first which will give you a slightly more matte and absorbent surface to paint onto.

Cheers,
Will

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Vicki November 18, 2013

I am a beginner/intermediate acrylic painter. I’ve produced several paintings, but the latest of my pet has me in a tizzy. The painting is of a german shepard with various shades of tan and brown, but my problem is that I painted the whole background red and now am not sure I like it. What can I do to just cover background and start over on that portion? Thanks so much!!

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Will Kemp November 18, 2013

Hi Vicki,

If it’s the background and the application of paint wasn’t too thick (you can still see the weave of the canvas) you’ll be okay just to paint over that area of the painting in a new colour. Using a good quality titanium white will help with coverage.

Cheers,
Will

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LeeLee January 9, 2014

thanks for sharing with everyone your art; knowledge; etc…just decided i wanted to try and paint some photos i have taken in the past of sunsets; moonlights and flowers..i found a child’s paint kit (not used) at a yard sale and used gesso to cover up the drawings on the small boards…well; 3 coats later i found your website and realized i may have ruined them..i didn’t sandpaper in between the coats of gesso…is it too late to sandpaper them for a smoother finish? also; i want to try and paint a photo i took of a purple sunset with trees and a full moon..( how to mix purple video really helpful!)..also; is it necessary to use gesso on artist trading cards if i intend to use acrylic paint on them as well? thanks for your time…

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Will Kemp January 9, 2014

Hi Lee, you won’t have ruined the paintings, you’ll still be able to paint ontop. It’s not necessary to use gesso with acrylics, it can just give a nicer surface to paint onto.

Cheers,
Will

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LeeLee January 12, 2014

thanks!

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HILLARY January 10, 2014

I worked on an 8′wide x 5′high acrylic painting for a long time. When I applied with a brush from top to bottom the isolation coat of Liquitex glazing medium gloss, it left vertical ridges/brushmarks everywhere. I must not have used a smooth enough brush. It is hard to cover such a large area. Much of the painting is black {with glazes of color} and the ridges ‘catch’ the light in different ways and make the black appear blotchy (lighter at the tops of each ridge). I tried putting on another coat on in the other direction, but that did not help. In addition, some spots are more glossy than others. It is as if it is impossible to apply it perfectly evenly as to avoid this. Should I repaint it with black in a thick manner so as to fill in between those ridges? Will the varnish do the trick? Do you run into the same problem of areas of gloss and matte no matter how you apply it? I would appreciate any advise. You are a genius with these materials and if you cannot help me then I’ll conclude no one can …..and I will join that painful ‘club’ where you throw out the painting.

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Will Kemp January 16, 2014

Hi Hillary,

The ridges occur if there is too much varnish on the brush when applying, and you’re right, applying to such a large area is very tricky with a brush. Areas of Matte/gloss are usually due to a lack of product on the surface. Its a case of many thin layers to build up the sheen. The varnish will accentuate the sheen that is underneath so its best to have an even tone to start with.

I usually try some small tester pieces, making a note of how many layers/how thin the mix was etc until I have a ‘recipe’ that works. I’m working on an varnish application video which should be on the blog soon.

Cheers,

Will

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HILLARY January 17, 2014

Thank you Will. Your advice to do a test run and figure out the best recipe is a great idea that I will try. Sometimes I wonder if the uneven appearance can also result from my not mixing the water into the glaze thoroughly enough. Perhaps I should also use a sprayer.

Regards,
Hillary

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Will Kemp January 17, 2014

You’re welcome Hillary, I usually use ‘Soft Gel gloss’ for an isolation coat. You can read about it here.

Hope it helps,

Will

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william February 9, 2014

hey will
how do i get depth in my portraits

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Will Kemp February 9, 2014

Hi Will, it depends on the composition and feeling you’re after. You can achieve depth using perspective within the composition of the scene, but often the illusion of depth is more to do with creating the illusion of form. So start with one strong light source and go from there.

Cheers,
Will

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Jaime February 9, 2014

Will, what about saving a canvas that has pencil marks ALL over it (thanks to my niece)? The marks are dark in most areas, and I tried applying gesso without knowing what I was doing and made a big mess. Anyway, I then took a wet rag and wiped most of the gesso off so that the pencil marks are visible. Sorry, for the long explanation, but I wanted you to know all properties.

May I try using gesso again – this time watching/reading your tutorial first)?

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Will Kemp February 9, 2014

Hi Jamie,

No worries about the long explanation, thought it sounded quite succinct! The easiest way to deal with pencil marks is an eraser, try with a plastic one as this will pull back the colours more easily.

Once you’ve taken most of the pencil off with the eraser you’re good to go, you probably wouldn’t need an extra coat of gesso, just apply a tonal coloured ground and you can build your painting from there.

Hope this helps,

Will

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Monika March 18, 2014

Hi Will,
I have a canvas that I practiced on with acrylic paints and would like to cover it up with leftover house paint. Will this work? Also, if I do cover the painting with house paint, can I use acrylics on top? Or do I have to stick with using only house paint once I cover the original acrylic painting with house paint? Thanks for your help and expertize.
Monika

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Will Kemp March 19, 2014

Hi Monika, if it is an acrylic emulsion you can work between the two on your painting, the only thing that won’t work is if the household paint is oil based. Bear in mind that the household paint won’t have as much opacity, and will also have a much greater colour shift when it dries.

Cheers,
Will

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Suzanne March 31, 2014

Hi Will,
Love you and your info too!

Please advise – when I started painting a couple of years ago, I did a portrait of my daughter, without a background first.
Then I was advised to do a background.
Have been having a lot of trouble deciding on color, so whited it out a couple of times.
I was curious if there’s a masking solution that I can paint over her face, paint the background, then remove the mask?
I’ve seen your article on varnishing, thank you, and know it involves an isolation coat, though I’ve never tried removing an isolation coat. Could that be used in this case?
The portrait turned out very well and I’d like to put it up one day.
Thanks much and looking forward to hearing from you,
– Suzanne.

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Will Kemp March 31, 2014

Hi Suzanne, nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments. I nearly always work onto a tonal ground which helps you to see the tonal range and colour balance within your portrait. You can watch a video about it here, with the more subtle ground towards the end of the video being the closest to the background tone I would use for a portrait.

Hope it helps,

Cheers,

Will,

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Suzanne April 1, 2014

Hi,
Thanks much for your reply.
Enjoyed the video .. if I may, still curious whether I can cover the portrait with some masking emulsion to be able to have a better go of doing the background around it without messing up the subject.
By now there’s already a few layers of paint around it with white under each layer.
I know, sounds a mess, but the portrait is lovely and I’d like to save and finish it if possible.
Suzanne.

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Will Kemp April 1, 2014

Hi Suzanne, you could try using masking fluid that is usually used for watercolours, here’s an article that goes through a few things to be aware of.
Cheers,
Will

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Lindsey April 9, 2014

Hi Will,
I am by no means a professional artist. I painted a night lake/sky scene for my bedroom in greens and browns, but I don’t like the hue of the green paint I chose. It’s much too “grassy” and I’d rather it be closer to “earthy” or “olive.” Is there any way to fix that part of the painting?
Thanks for your help! You have a lot of great tips here!
:0)

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Will Kemp April 11, 2014

Hi Lindsey, yes, you can just mix a more muted green and then paint over the top to create a more muted feel, have a look at this video on mixing greens to see the different tones you can create.

Cheers,
Will

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Carolyn May 13, 2014

Love your tutorials. Thanks for all the great advice. Re: fixing mistakes: A good tip I found is to use an emery board to sand the offending area and then smooth sand with a nail buffer. This minimizes gloss, brush marks and paint ridges. I tried this on a bird painting where I messed up the wing. Fortunately the background was a simple sky and clouds done only in ultramarine blue and titanium white, easy to match. (Skin tone or other mixed colors would have been a whole other can of worms.) Then I covered that space with gesso mixed with a tiny bit of blue and medium (extender). After that dried, I was able to blend in the sky background and place a buff wash in the bird’s wing area. Hope that helps someone.

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Will Kemp May 15, 2014

Hi Carolyn, pleased the technique worked for your painting.
Cheers,
Will

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Micky May 23, 2014

Someone gave me a large canvas 48″ x 60″ on which an oil painting had been started.
I prefer to do a painting in acrylic on it. Would it be possible to paint over it with something – maybe Golden Acrylic Soft Gel? Then lightly sand that to get a tooth in order to paint over it with acrylic?

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Will Kemp May 24, 2014

Hi Micky, I wouldn’t try to make a tooth with soft gel gloss, or paint ontop of an oil with acrylics as the acrylics won’t adhere to the canvas surface. The paint surface will also be very slippery and won’t ‘grab’ onto the canvas.

Cheers,
Will

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judy June 2, 2014

i just had one of these episodes.

i had a good strong start and then i went beserk and over did it. some parts can be sanded down, a good section looks fabulous. i don’t know if i can save it and might end up wasting time and money. yet again, if i don’t try i might miss out on something that might work and could end up looking fabulous.

thanks.

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LeBot June 24, 2014

Hi Will,
I have just started using acrylics and started off painting your French Cafe (perhaps a bit ambitious of me).
I started off well and I was really pleased until I got to the tables which I found difficult to paint without losing form and perspective. So I have made a few mistakes with the table in the foreground. Can it be salvaged and still look good. Unfortunately I am a bit of a perfectionist and if I make a mistake my critical eye is drawn to it all the time!

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Will Kemp June 25, 2014

Hi LeBot, yes of course, you can easily paint over any mistakes to correct the form or perspective in your paintings. Hope you’ve been enjoying the tutorial.
Cheers,
Will

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Sherri July 2, 2014

I have an old acrylic painting I did and I like it but I just want to tweak it a bit. Can I just add acrylic over the top or is there something I need to do first?

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Will Kemp July 3, 2014

Sure can, I would just gently wipe a damp cloth over the surface first and then you’re good to go.

Cheers,
Will

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Esther August 10, 2014

Hi Will,
I hope I’m not repeating what you’ve already answered – all fingers crossed you have time to answer this one as I’m totally stumped. I started painting in acrylics two weeks ago! I like to create an abstract background and then outline shapes – say flowers and fill in the spaces with white or a light neutral. Not sure what this style is called but I’ve seen others mask like this too..
The colours I’m using are cheap acrylics but the white is artists quality and a lot thicker. Every time I come back to my paintings after a few hours some of the background colour appears to bleed to the surface of the white. No matter how many thin coats of white are applied to a dry surface the colour comes through. It’s worst with the magenta. Do you think it could be the quality? – The way its pigmented with a die or the specific magenta colour? So odd.
Thanks so much for your help if you can, Esther :)

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Will Kemp August 12, 2014

Hi Esther, sometimes the less expensive man-made pigments are created using dyes which aren’t as permanent, bright magenta/purples are often man-made colours and can be more susceptible to bleeding through. It’s definitely worth trying an artist quality and looking out for ‘Quinacridone’s’ these pigments have good lightfastness and bleed resistance yet will give you a strong magenta colour.

Hope this helps,
Will

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Esther August 13, 2014

Thanks so much. My work is ruined no more! all just by upgrading to a branded paint rather than an own brand. Guess I’ll be taking my work a bit more seriously. Thanks again for responding :)

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Tamara Walus September 4, 2014

Hi Will
Thank you very much for all the information.
I have recently downloaded one of your classes and cannot wait for the weekend to get going with the new experience.
One question that I hope you could help me with. If I paint over a gloss glazing, will the new paint adequately adhere to the gloss finish?
Take care
Tamara

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Will Kemp September 4, 2014

Hi Tamara, yes acrylic will adhere to a paint that has a glossy medium. I’ve used a Acrylic glazing liquid gloss for many thin glazes within a single painting and they are always very stable.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Tamara Walus September 5, 2014

Thank you very much, Will. I wish you all the best. Tamara

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Noreen September 6, 2014

Hi Will
I appreciate all the great information you provide
I have an issue with a painting – I applied a coat of Liquitex gloss medium & varnish last night. I should have done a test first as have ended up with noticeable brush strokes :( I think the solution was too thick & I should have thinned with some water but the instructions indicated this was optional. I have used this product before with success, but on more textured paintings & brush strokes did not show. This painting has a smooth blue sky which is where the brush strokes are obvious. The sky covers about 2/3rds of the canvas. Would another coat of thinned out solution in an opposite direction then a satin or matte varnish help or make a further mess? Hoping you have a solution. Thanks

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Will Kemp September 23, 2014

Hi Noreen, a thin application would probably still show the texture of the brushmarks underneath, you could try another layer in the opposite direction and if that still hasn’t covered then apply another coat the first direction.
Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

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Noreen September 24, 2014

I did 2 more coats then a final coat using Liquitex satin varnish & the brush strokes are hardly noticeable. Thanks for the great advice!

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Will Kemp September 24, 2014

Good one Noreen, so pleased it helped.
Will

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Will Kemp January 26, 2013

Hi John, thanks for the update, brilliant news with the pro cadmium yellow. It really can be night and day working with artist quality paints, I come across so many students that feel they just can’t achieve what they want with acrylics and it is purely down to the paint they are using.

I also agree it is really odd that the paint aimed at beginners is the hardest to use and performs the worst, so pleased you’ve achieved the results you where after.

Cheers,
Will

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Will Kemp September 8, 2013

Hey Jimi,
Really pleased you had better results with the paints and the colour mixing tutorials where helpful, thanks for letting me know.
Cheers,
Will

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Jimi McKay September 10, 2013

Hi Will,
Sorry for the delay. I haven´t been painting much over the last week or so, but it appears to have been a one-off. Yes, your site is really helpful too, so thanks for everything.
Cheers,
Jimi.

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Will Kemp September 11, 2013

Good one Jimi, pleased to hear it.

Cheers,
Will

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